Berklee Contemporary Symphony Orchestra Performance Spans Countries, Cultures, and History

By 
Eugene Ahn
December 10, 2019

Inspired by an iconic John F. Kennedy quote, the BCSO selected each piece to be written by a composer from a different country, embarking on a global musical journey.

Julius P. Williams conducts the Berklee Contemporary Symphony Orchestra.
Image by Craig Bailey

On November 22, the anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assasination in 1963, the Berklee Contemporary Symphony Orchestra (BCSO), conducted by Julius P. Williams, performed a concert inspired by Kennedy's own words.

In a television broadcast in 1962, Kennedy remarked on behalf of the National Cultural Center, “I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we too will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit." With Kennedy’s vision in mind, the BCSO embarked on a global musical journey, with each piece selected for this program written by a composer from a different country.

Williams spoke to the crowd that night, remarking, "The students in our orchestra are from 14 different countries, and we conceived tonight's program to reflect who we are as global citizens: our different cultures and range of experiences." The selections chosen were similarly inclusive, featuring female composers and composers of color, as well as contemporary composers and those from musical genres not traditionally performed in the concert hall.

The concert included modern favorites such as “Dearly Beloved,” composed by Yoko Shimomura for the video game Kingdom Hearts; the iconic Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto by He Zhanhao and Chen Gang, performed by Serena Harnack; enduring works such as Jean Sibelius’s Finlandia; and contemporary composer Nkeiru Okoye’s Voices Shouting Out, described by the composer as “a sparkling celebration of life.” The night culminated with Aaron Copland’s iconic Lincoln Portrait, featuring narrator Ron Savage, dean of Berklee's Professional Performance Division, reading excerpts from some of Abraham Lincoln’s greatest speeches, including the Gettysburg Address.

About the Orchestra

The Berklee Contemporary Symphony Orchestra is a full symphony ensemble committed to the art of orchestra playing that honors the past, present, and future. In addition to the great compositions of the past, the orchestra's repertoire includes original compositions by Berklee faculty and students, and contemporary music from around the globe and from burgeoning genres such as film and video game scores. Committed to programming that reflects diverse communities, the orchestra is managed by artistic director Julius P. Williams and managing director Jamie Davis-Ponce. For any questions, please email jdavisponce@berklee.edu.

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